Tag: Common Crossbill
On Saturday I was in the Kielder area with Sarah, collecting our new mountain bikes from Ian at The Bike Place. The weather was glorious; blue skies, sunshine – everything you would want on a day there with clients.
Skip forward to Sunday morning…
I collected Jon and Alison, Jill and Steve & Laura and Nicola from Hexham and we headed north towards the Border Forests. The weather was somewhat different; overcast, not even a slight breeze and the air was damp and bitterly cold. In those conditions the forest is an ethereal place, remote, other-worldly and an experience in itself. Mistle Thrushes and Chaffinches seemed to be everywhere that we looked, Common Buzzards were sitting hunched on tree-tops and telegraph poles, Roe Deer crossed the track ahead of us and the only Common Crossbills of the day were a group of four that flew by as we were trying to locate a very vocal Raven. Then, a very nice policeman stopped and showed us his Badger and Red Squirrel A Green Woodpecker yaffled from the wooded slopes below us and Goldcrests, Blue Tits, Great Tits and Robins could all be heard.
Heading towards the border a Dipper sat on a rock at the water’s edge, bobbing up and down before heading upstream in a whirr of wing beats. Red Grouse was found soon after heading up onto the moors around Newcastleton and the next addition to the trip list was probably the highlight of the day (apart from the Badger…). The next grouse was well hidden, with only it’s head visible but, as I stopped the car to let everyone have a good look at it, it raised itself from the heather and revealed it’s true identity; a stunning male Black Grouse, resplendent in the day’s only real attempt at sunshine. He wasn’t alone though, as two more Blackcock appeared from amongst the heather and eventually a total of five flew across the road and settled again.
After a picnic stop in one of my favourite places, we went in search of Wild Goats. It didn’t take too long to find one and, as is often the case, once you’ve found one you soon find more. This prompted the following exchange in the back of the car “That goat’s got a baby” “You’re kidding me”…
Heading back towards Northumberland a flock of Fieldfares were on telegraph wires and two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were perched at the top of a small tree by the road. A walk to the hide at Bakethin produced Goldeneye, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard and one of Northumberland’s more exotic inhabitants rounded off the day as we watched at least five Mandarins, including three gaudy drakes and two subtly beautiful ducks in a tributary of the north Tyne.
The weather was an experience, we had some excellent wildlife to enjoy, and we hardly saw another person all day…but what really made the day for me was having six clients who all got on so well with each other, were really enthusiastic about birdwatching and wildlife and provided a steady level of entertainment throughout the day
Trips with existing clients are always a pleasure, not only because it’s very gratifying to get a booking from someone we’ve taken out before, but also because we already have shared memories. I had 3 things vivid in my mind from when I took Pete and Janet out in September 2008 – it rained, we saw 11 adult Mediterranean Gulls on the beach at Newbiggin and Janet found an Otter.
I collected Pete and Janet from their holiday cottage in Embleton, and we headed across to Sharperton to collect David and Mary. They’re all members of the same Natural History Society, who were our first group booking, back in 2009, and we always enjoy catching up with them, and the other members of their group, at the Bird Fair each August. Tuesday was a bespoke trip, combining Harwood and Druridge Bay, and the weather forecast suggested that it wouldn’t rain…
As we approached Harwood a Roe Deer crossed the track, walked into the trees and then stopped to watch us. This was the first of 11 that we saw on our journey through the forest (well, it was about 11, and if I say 11, it’ll help the punchline to this post!).
Harwood again produced memorable sightings; Roe Deer, Tree Pipit, at least 3 Cuckoos, Siskins, plenty of Crossbills, more Roe Deer and a mouth-wateringly attractive male Common Redstart. A list of species can never really do justice to just how good encounters with wildlife can be though; as 2 Roe Deer bounded across the clearfell area beside the track, 2 Cuckoos were engaged in a frantic chase, calling frequently and mobbed by Meadow Pipits every time they left the safety of the trees, while the male Redstart flicked along the edge of a nearby plantation, red tail shivering as he perched on a tree stump, black face contrasting with his white forehead and supercilium, the subtle grey of his crown and mantle and the orangy-red of his breast.
As we tucked in to our picnic lunch, overlooking a very calm North Sea, the first drops of icy rain began to patter down. Then, a comment from Janet to set the pulse racing “I’m sure I just saw a fin”. With such calm water the sudden appearance of black shapes at the surface stood out, and Janet had found yet another exciting mammal on a NEWT safari. This time it wasn’t the sleek, sinuous predator of our lakes and rivers, but another sleek, sinuous predator. We watched for several minutes as the pod of Bottlenose Dolphins moved slowly south. At least 6 animals, including a very small calf, they surfaced lazily every 30seconds or thereabouts as I texted observers further south to let them know what was coming.
Avocet, Garganey (2 handsome drakes), Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, clouds of Swifts, Swallows and martins, and weather best described as changeable, all contributed to an excellent afternoon around Druridge before I completed our circular route, dropping Pete and Janet, and then David and Mary. See you at the BirdFair
So, it rained, we saw 11(ish) Roe Deer in Harwood and Janet found some Bottlenose Dolphins…
“Is Sarah keeping you organised and under control?” – that was a question I was actually asked by a client who I took out, for their second trip, recently. Now, I’m the first to admit that organisation isn’t really one of my strengths, but the other owner of NEWT encourages me ;-)
With four clients, and three separate pick-up locations, for our Kielder Safari last Friday, there was plenty of opportunity for the plan to not go smoothly. However, with Neil collected from his accommodation at The Swan, and Ken and Paddy collected from Low Hauxley, we pulled into the car park at The Pheasant Inn in Kielder at 10:00 – exactly the time I’d said I would be there to collect Roger, our fourth participant for the day.
As we drove through the forest, home of Roe Deer, Red Squirrel and Goshawk, on rough tracks we stopped to watch a Great Spotted Woodpecker perched at the top of a very flimsy spruce, Common Buzzards soared over nearby plantations, Meadow Pipits flitted across the track ahead of us, Chaffinches were singing from what seemed like every tree and a flock of 20 or so Common Crossbills moved through the trackside trees, pausing to nibble at cones, and constantly giving their ‘chip, chip’ calls. As we continued, a mixed flock of Common Crossbills and Siskins suddenly erupted from the trees. These two colourful denizens of the dark forests often seem outrageously bright against the dark green foliage, and are always well appreciated by our clients.
Other moorland and upland specialities followed as we headed through the afternoon; Red Grouse, picking their way through the heather, Goosander flying upstream in remote narrow valleys, Ravens – tumbling, cronking and having a real battle with Carrion Crows - and one of my personal favourites, Wild (Feral) Goats. The collective noun for them is a ‘trip’, coincidentally the same as for one of our favourite birds, the Dotterel – a mountain and moorland specialist that we’ve yet to find on a NEWT Safari
With shared interests including photography, fly fishing and, of course, a deep love of Northumberland there was plenty of discussion amongst everyone during the day. Vast forest, small world…
After Tuesday’s snow, sleet and general murk, and Wednesday’s icy breeze, I prepared for Thursday’s Kielder Safari by loading as many layers of technical clothing as I could into the back of the car…but, as I headed north to Felton to collect Lindsay and Abbie, I was glad that I’d included sunglasses in my kit list for the day
We drove west through Rothbury, Elsdon and Otterburn, in absolutely stunning light that really showed Northumberland at it’s best, along roads where the verges were still snow-covered and the temperature was sub-zero, past flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings gathering pre-migration, to collect Victoria and Paul from Bellingham before heading along the forest tracks towards Hawkhope. Only a few hundred yards from the public road we were soon watching a stunning male Common Crossbill. More Crossbills followed, then some outrageously bright Siskins. Common Buzzards were soaring over the plantations (it turned out to be a excellent raptor day – although the ‘Phantom of the Forest’ eluded us), Chaffinches seemed to be along every step of the way, Great Spotted Woodpeckers played their usual game of hide-and-seek and even the humble Meadow Pipits were subjected to great scrutiny. As Lindsay commented as we watched one pipit, elevated above it’s usual status of LBJ by the superb light, ”it’s nice to have views in the field, of a feature that you’ve read about in a field guide”. He was referring to the long hind-claw of the pipit and, with our subject perched just a few metres away and very obliging, this led on to a discussion of pipit identification. When we finally returned to the C200 we’d been off-road for over two and a half hours – a new longevity record for that 10 mile section of our route, and an excellent measure of just how many birds we’d stopped and studied.
Up over the border our lunch break, after watching a pair of Curlews as they called on a bit of high moorland, was accompanied by a pair of Ravens chasing off a Kestrel that had strayed over their nest site, a territorial skirmish involving 2 pairs of Common Buzzards, Pied Wagtails flycatching over the stream and 3 Goosanders looking resplendent. Our post-lunch walk produced more Common Buzzards, another Kestrel, a Peregrine powering it’s way down the valley and a small group of Wild Goats including a tiny kid. As we returned to the car a pair of Ravens appeared along the ridge, soared up against the sky and then began tumbling and calling.
Our final section of the trip was the Forest Drive between Kielder and Byrness; currently closed to the public because of forestry activity, and the state of the road surface, we’d been given permission by the Forestry Commission to use the track, which we had to ourselves for the afternoon. A Raven soared close to a Common Buzzard, a pair of Stonechats were next to the road at Kielderhead and we came across an excellent mixed flock of finches; Common Crossbills, Siskins and Lesser Redpolls (which we’d earlier heard but not seen) in one small area of spruce, pine and birch.
We dropped Victoria and Paul back in Bellingham, and headed east towards the coastal plain as the light faded at the end of a 12 hour Safari Day. 12 hour days as a birdwatching guide, in some extraordinary landscapes with stunning wildlife, leave you feeling energised…don’t think I would have said the same while I was a teacher
Delivering a birding package for the first time with a new partner is always a mixture of excitement and worry; will the experience we deliver to our clients blend well with the standards of service, accommodation and food that are provided? Our exclusive Doxford Hall birding break on Thursday and Friday didn’t hold too many worries though – I’ve attended conferences and other events there before and, having known David Hunter since he was at Matfen Hall, I knew that the entire Doxford experience would be a memorable one for all the right reasons.
I arrived first thing Thursday morning to collect Paul and Sue, who had won their exclusive birding break in a competition that ourselves and Doxford Hall ran recently in Birdwatch magazine. Our original plan of Druridge Bay on Thursday, Lindisfarne on Friday, had been altered following a ‘phone call during the week from Sue – there was one species they particularly wanted to see, and our recent blog posts had revealed that now might be a good time…so, after a day of hectic communication with the Forestry Commission to arrange access through Kielder, and check where along our route there would be any forestry activity, our first trip headed inland. We started at Harwood in near-perfect weather conditions; warm, sunny and with a good breeze. Common Buzzards, Common Crossbills, Siskins and a very vocal Raven were all seen but no Goshawk so we continued west. Once we were in Kielder another Raven entertained us, tumbling and cronking over a remote farmhouse in the warm afternoon sunshine before soaring heavenwards and then dropping back out of the sky alongside its mate. We stopped to scan over another plantation, where I’ve watched Goshawks previously, and I soon spotted a bird just above the trees. He quickly got into a thermal and rose until we lost sight of him. I suggested that we just needed to wait for a Common Buzzard to drift over the Gos’ territory, and we began a patient vigil. Eventually a Common Buzzard did appear, we all lifted our binoculars to focus on it…and a distant speck in the binoculars above the buzzard grew rapidly larger as the Goshawk dropped out of the sky. The intruder thought better of hanging around and quickly folded it’s wings back and crossed the valley like an arrow. Having shepherded the buzzard away, the Phantom of the Forest rose quickly again to resume his sentinel watch. More Common Crossbills and Common Buzzards followed as we travelled down the valley back towards civilisation, and 2 pairs of Mandarin brought a touch of stunning colour to the afternoon.
Dinner at Doxford Hall on Thursday evening was exceptional (outstanding food and outstanding levels of service throughout the 2 days), and having clients with such an enthusiasm for birding, and fantastic sense of humour, made it even better. After dinner conversation did reveal that there was an obvious gap in their life-lists though…
Friday’s plan was simple; head to the coast and then bird our way down it to finish in Druridge Bay late afternoon. We started at Harkess Rocks, in the shadow of Bamburgh Castle, with a very nice flock of 79 Purple Sandpipers. In the heavy swell a flock of Common Scoters proved elusive, Common Eiders dived through the surf, small rafts of Common Guillemot and Razorbill bobbed about, Gannets soared effortlessly, Sandwich Terns were feeding just offshore and Long-tailed Ducks and Red-breasted Mergansers in breeding finery were a reminder that our winter visitors are about to pack their bags and head north. Red-throated Divers, including one bird with a very red tinge to it’s throat, were typically elusive, diving just as we got onto them. I’d got another species in mind though and, when I found one, it was sitting obligingly next to a Red-throated Diver. Soon, Paul and Sue were admiring the elegant structure, neat contrasty plumage and white flank patch of their first Black-throated Diver. 2 days, 2 lifers
We headed south and, after watching an adult Mediterranean Gull, and two 2nd calendar year birds, winter and spring came together with flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, and a Short-eared Owl, being characteristic of the last 5 months of our coastal trips, Green Sandpiper and Whimbrel on passage and a male Marsh Harrier drifting over a coastal reedbed.
In beautiful afternoon light, with the sound of the roaring surf of the North Sea crashing into the east coast, the Short-eared Owl quartering a nearby reedbed and a pair of Great Crested Grebes displaying on the pool in front of us, a couple of comments by Sue - two of many memorable ones during the trip – summed things up nicely “chilled-out birding” and “we like the view from Martin’s office”
After our first ever Harwood Safari on Saturday, our second came quickly 0n it’s heels. I’d driven through some patchy, but dense, fog on the way to collect Judith and Kevin but as headed towards Harwood we found ourselves in some extraordinarily good weather. The view from the Gibbet was better than on Saturday, and a male Goshawk was seen briefly as he passed along the top of the plantation in the distance.
Crossbills and Siskins were again in evidence as we drove the forest tracks and a Grey Wagtail was catching flies on the surface of a ditch as we watched a Common Buzzard soaring overhead, and a pair of Common Toads, the male clasped tightly to the female’s back, crossed the track ahead of us. We stopped to watch over the plantation where we’d had 2 Goshawks on Saturday, and soon a Common Buzzard soared into view. Almost immediately the male Goshawk rose out of the trees and began displaying high overhead, before finding a thermal that was obviously to his liking and ascending rapidly out of sight, presumably to keep a close eye on his territory.
The second half our our day was spent around Druridge Bay and southeast Northumberland. As we checked rivers and pools, the assembled birdlife wasn’t disturbed by anything other than more birds; Black-headed Gulls were harassing a Grey Heron, Goldeneye, Mallards, and Teal were following other Goldeneye, Mallards and Teal, full of the joys of spring, and Canada Geese were busy showing that even Canada Geese don’t like Canada Geese :-) As we left Druridge Bay behind and headed towards Blaydon, the countryside was bathed in an almost sublime light. 10 hour working days have never seemed so attractive
Since we started NEWT we’ve always tried to innovate and keep our tours refreshed. Saturday gave me the opportunity to do something that really was innovative – our first Harwood Safari. We’ve walked the route 5 times during the last 3 winters, but driving it was something of an unknown quantity.
As a business we’re happy to support the Northumberland Wildlife Trust. As well as being a corporate member of the trust, we sponsor the under 13 and 13-18 age categories of the NWT Annual Photography competition. Saturday’s Harwood trip was the prize for last year’s 13-18 winner and his dad. When I collected them from Newbiggin it was worryingly misty, but as we headed inland the mist began to lift.
We started at the viewpoint near Winter’s Gibbet, where Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Crossbill, Siskin, Goldcrest, Lesser Redpoll and Chiffchaff were all calling or singing. As the mist over the forest lifted, it was time to break new ground as we headed off along tracks with no vehicle access to the public. More Crossbills and Siskins were in the trackside trees and Common Buzzards were soaring high overhead giving their mewing calls. Soon after lunch we stopped to check out a distant raptor over the plantation on the opposite side of a clearfell area. Within a minute we were watching 3 Common Buzzards…and a pair of Goshawks that had risen out of the trees to shepherd the buzzards away! As the buzzards moved on the Goshawks quickly melted back into the obscurity of the trees.
A stop to search for Adders didn’t produce any of these fearsome reptiles, but we did find a dozen Common Lizards, lazing in the sunshine and then scuttling out of sight.
Our first Harwood Safari, the air filled with raptors, trees filled with Crossbills…looks like a winner
After a day on the coast, heading inland to Kielder seems other-worldly, but it always produces something memorable.
In rather misty conditions I drove across to Otterburn Hall to collect Anne and Peter for a day of birdwatching around Kielder and the Border forests. As we travelled through the forest the temperature gauge on the car hit the heady heights of 7C! Common Buzzards were uncharacteristically obliging, remaining perched in the open, and Crossbills and Siskins were once again shining like jewels in the cloudy, gloomy edges of the forest. After Thursday’s Skylark/Merlin encounter, Kielder provided another predator-prey experience. We’d been watching displaying Common Snipe, and listened to one singing from it’s perch on a tree stump in the middle of a clear-fell area. A Sparrowhawk soared into view, circling high over a nearby plantation, before switching to a much more direct flight mode…and chasing one of the displaying Snipe. As they vanished out of sight over a plantation the hawk was still in hot pursuit…and the eventual outcome wasn’t for our eyes. Anne spotted the only Red Squirrel of the day as we continued along our route out onto the ‘main’ road
As we continued across the border and into a remote valley, we enjoyed our picnic lunch with Ravens and Common Buzzards soaring along the ridges high above us. A Dipper sat motionless on a mid-stream rock and a pair of Goosanders flew upstream into the head of the valley. I may be a cold-weather person, and I’m certainly an evening person…but Springtime in the hills has a magic all of it’s own, and I feel privileged sharing it with our clients.
Yesterday saw something we haven’t done before; a mid-August Kielder Safari.
Andrew, Nick (on his 3rd trip with NEWT), Stephen and Georgina all arrived at our starting point within minutes of each other. Under a deep blue sky, with some big fluffy white clouds, conditions looked perfect and we set off for the western reaches of Northumberland.
Common Buzzards were seen en route, a good sign that conditions were right for raptors. The thing that makes our Kielder Safaris so special is the access we’ve been granted by the Forestry Commission, allowing us to take our clients on a drive along remote tracks that are not open to vehicle access by the general public. With so little disturbance, the wildlife along the tracks is often very approachable. A family party of Common Crossbills perched obligingly in trees just ahead of us, and kept flying down to the track to eat grit, Siskins, Chaffinches and a Spotted Flycatcher were all watched as they went about their business close by and a Sparrowhawk twisted, turned and swooped through the trees just a few metres away, hot on the tail of a flock of Siskins and Chaffinches. Perhaps one of the most extraordinary moments of the trip was something I’ve never seen before, in over 40 years of birdwatching; as we watched a juvenile Common Buzzard soaring above a remote steep-sided valley, Andrew noticed a second bird further along the valley. The juvenile flew in that direction and the second bird, an adult buzzard, flew up towards it, rolled on it’s back in mid-air and passed prey up to the juvenile. I’ve seen that happen so many times as courtship behaviour in all of our harrier species, but I’ve never seen a food pass between Common Buzzards, and to see it executed so gracefully by this broad-winged raptor was breathtaking. We continued on our way with Wheatear, Stonechat, Kestrel, Raven, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Mandarin all joining the day list.
Perhaps the best of the day though came near the end; as we drove across the Forest Drive, a large mammal crossed the track ahead of us. Looking like a dark Roe Deer on steroids, the nanny Wild Goat was soon followed by a billy goat and 2 kids. We’ve seen Wild Goats with clients on our trips before, but never at such close quarters.
We’ll be visiting Kielder again on 31st August and 2nd September, so give us a call on 07908 119535 to find out how you can share the experience of the border forests, and the unknown quantity of those remote tracks, with us.
As we drove along a remote track through the forest, we came across some of the wildlife that makes Kielder such a special place; Roe Deer trotted across the track ahead of us, family parties of Common Crossbills were adorning the tops of spuce trees like christmas decorations, a Red Squirrel eyeballed us from halfway up a tree, a Common Buzzard tolerated a closer approach than usual, but not for long, and a pair of Wheatears watched as we passed by.
North of the border we were entertained by several pairs of Whinchat (surely one of the most attractive birds we have in Britain), including a male who started singing from his perch just a few metres away, a Dipper that was whizzing up and down the stream where we sat to have our lunch, a Red Grouse playing hide-and-seek with us in the heather and the elegant beauty of a male Hen Harrier, still retaining his grace as he battled into the howling gale that made our hot soup at lunchtime all the better.
Whether it’s the remoteness, the landscape, the species that you rarely, if ever, find elsewhere or just the lack of other people; our inland locations – Kielder, the Cheviot Valleys and the North Pennines always produce memorable birdwatching experiences, for our clients and for ourselves as well!